With just about every smartphone on the market these days; from the $188 unlocked Huawei Sonic to a high end iPhone or HTC Sensation, you are more than likely to find it sporting an internal GPS. While the GPS functionality is used for more than just navigation (at iBrothers, finding a decent coffee in an unknown location is impossible without a GPS based social networking app) turn-by-turn navigation is still considered the most useful application of this technology. Turn-by-turn navigation of course requires an app and the good news is that the choice available keeps on growing.
The list of features for each application vary considerably. Aside from simple turn-by-turn navigation, vendors have been looking to add other functionality to give their product an advantage over their competitors. Buying a GPS device or app can give you some interesting things such as speed camera locations, multipoint routing, school zone warnings, text-to-speach, custom or celebrity voices and navigate to photo just to name a few. While some apps continually download the maps they need live, some have have the map data built into the application with the benefit of off-line usage (no need for a data connection). The trade off is that the application weighs in at about 200 to 400MB and vary in price from $19 MetroView (Map data provided by PMSA) to $80 for TomTom (Map data provided by Sensis)
What I am looking at today is two free options on the market suitable for the occasional user that while basic in their offering, work extremely well and above all are FREE!
For the Android user, turn-by-turn navigation is built right into the device Google Maps. Back in november 2010 Google Australia flicked a switch to allow the built in Google maps to switch to navigator mode allowing uses to access a full voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation.
Google Maps Navigation (Beta)
The feature list as found on the Google Blog
- Search in plain English No need to know the address. You can type a business name or even a kind of a business, just like you would on Google.
- Traffic view An indicator glows green, yellow, or red based on the current traffic along your route. Touch it to see traffic ahead of you.
- Satellite view View your route overlaid on 3D satellite views with Google’s high-resolution aerial imagery.
- Navigation shortcut Select the Navigation icon from the launcher to start quickly; pick a destination by search (speak or type), contacts, starred items, or recent destinations.
- Search by voice Speak your destination instead of typing: “Navigate to Taronga Zoo”. (It works for Aussie accents too!)
- Search along route Search for any kind of business along your route, or turn on popular layers such as petrol stations, restaurants, or parking.
- Street View Visualise turns with Street View imagery. Navigation automatically switches to Street View as you approach your destination.
- Walking Navigation (Beta) Get voice-guided navigation for walking directions. Device vibrates for turn notifications.
Testing Google Maps Navigation on my HTC Wildfire, I found it a little slow. When driving, I noticed some occasional lag where it was reporting my position to be behind where I actually was (and at iBrothers we are always amused when the GPS tells us we are driving though a playground/ runway/ off a cliff). This could be of course due to a slower processor found in the wildfire than in more expensive handsets or the fact that I had previously “rooted” my phone. I also found the voice used for guidance a little too “robotic” which occasionally made it difficult to understand. It did however manage to get me to my destination with out any major issues and that’s the main feature.
The application itself doesn’t have any balls or whistles, no speed camera warnings nor options to customise, but it does have a very clean and usable interface. Google Maps data is pulled live from Googles service and as such will use your 3G connection to download the maps and route. For occasional use, a large enough data pack on your mobile account and a good 3G connection when driving, this is a viable solution.
Google uses Sensis data for its map database. Sensis is owned by Telstra and in my opinion still the most accurate mapping data for Australia. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any information of how often Google gets updates from Sensis.
For the iPhone user it’s been “paid only” for a long while until last month August 2011 when Sensis released their own free turn-by-turn application.
From the link:
- Locate yourself on the map or search for addresses, places & businesses from Yellow Pages® all from the one search box.
- Use the quick search panel to drop points of interest on your map such as petrol stations, ATMs, restaurants, car parks, etc.
- Get directions by driving (with or without toll roads option) or walking and we’ll give you the best route.
- Voice guided, turn-by-turn navigation tells you where and when to make a turn using the latest & most up-to-date map data from Whereis®. It will also automatically re-route you if you take a wrong turn.
- Multi-tasking so that you can play music while you’re navigating.
Bonus for Telstra customers:
- No carrier data charges when you use the app on the Telstra Next GTM network (excluding any links to third party sites & content).
- Call 1234 from within the app and let an operator do a search for you (1234 call charges apply).
Testing Whereis on my iPhone 4, I found it to be very good at keeping up with me while moving and the voice used for voice-guidance was fantastic – a strong, clear Australian voice. I did find that it couldn’t locate some addresses I entered even though on the Whereis website it found them easily. It also had an issue where, once you arrived at a destination it didn’t stop the navigation until you exited the application. Like Google’s offering, no bells and whistles, just a very basic/ limited GPS, but one that will definitely get you to your destination.
Like Google Maps, the mapping data is pulled live over your 3G connection so once again eating into your monthly data allowance. Customers on Telstra’s NextG network however enjoy this service without having data counted against their monthly allowance.
Map data also uses Sensis but unlike Google, the data is always current. When Sensis updates its database, it’s then reflected on Whereis and therefore available in the app. Despite the lack of features, accessing the most up to date maps is arguably the most important feature of a GPS application which puts Whereis as a top contender for GPS software.
*while the application is free, maps are downloaded via your 3G connection which in most cases counts against your data allowance.